Blog: March 2019

 

Friday, March 22, 2019
By Kyle Folk

 

Feeding the world’s population over the next 50 years will require as much food as we’ve produced since the beginning of civilization. Can we do it? 

I believe we can. But the question highlights the magnitude of this challenge. We feed 7.7 billion people today and by 2056 will need to feed a projected 10 billion. Failure to meet this challenge would mean widespread food shortages, hunger and starvation, and social and political upheaval. Since we cannot create more arable land, we must do the following:

  1. Grow more. There is a need to focus on the pre-harvest portion of the food supply chain to increase farmland yields. 
  2. Increase efficiencies throughout the supply chain, especially in our use of water.
  3. Reduce waste. The opportunities here are enormous. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that one-third of all food grown in the world, or 1.3 billion tonnes, is either lost or wasted.

Agricultural technology (AgTech) is vital to making progress in all three areas. And as I will explain, so is the farmer.

Grow More

Much research is being conducted to improve crop yields. For example scientists have found plants in the desert – which would otherwise be impaired by soil salinity – benefit from microbial life. Bacteria might be able to help non-desert plants and food crops grow amid high levels of salinity, extreme temperatures, nutrient deficiency or drought. 

Research is also underway to develop crops that are more resistant to insects (since diseases and pests reduce global food yields by approximately 35 percent) and herbicides, allowing farmers to kill weeds without harming their crops. Drought-resistant crops are also under development. 

Increase Efficiencies

Significant global investments are being made in smart farming. Companies are offering a variety of technologies and solutions for several types of precision crop farming tools, including GPS tracking, soil scanning, data management, precision irrigation, crop scouting, and yield monitoring and forecasting, among other technologies.  Indoor agriculture has been found to cut supply chain lengths dramatically, reducing the carbon footprint. Indoor and vertical growing, combined with renewable energy technology, can cut energy costs and carbon footprints.  

Reduce Waste

The opportunity to reduce food and ag waste is enormous. The challenge here is personal. I grew up in a small farming community in Saskatchewan, Canada, and in 2009 my parents suffered a devasting loss of grain due to spoilage. This incident, which could have been prevented, spurred me to invent a product to help farmers reduce grain spoilage. I did that through the establishment of IntraGrain Technologies in 2011 and a product called BIN-SENSE®.This product gives farmers the ability to monitor their stored grain, anywhere, anytime using a smartphone app. 

Grain spoilage can happen in a number of ways. For example insects can create hot spots that spread through the grain as the infestation grows. Another cause can be a high percentage of green seeds, that is, seeds that are not dry, that create pockets of moisture, spoiling the grain  through mould growth.

Even farmers who take all the precautions can experience large quantities of grain spoilage without warning. Worse, there is no insurance available. Farmers bear the full brunt of the loss, which can cost as much as $500,000 for a single incident. And those costs do not include any damage to the bin itself. Worst case, the bin becomes useless.

Canada has some of the best storage practices in the world. Yet, we still lose far too much to spoilage. Developing countries lose much more partly due to poor storage. 

Solutions Must Benefit the Farmer

It’s tempting to think of AgTech as top-down innovation, where solutions move from laboratory to field. But having grown up on a farm I know first-hand that any solution lacking buy-in from farmers is doomed.

Agriculture is still very much a family-run industry. The FAO says 90% of farms are family-owned and produce 80% of the world’s food.

Asking a producer to adopt new technology for the greater good is like asking your kids to finish their dinner because of global food insecurity. If farmers don’t value the technology they won’t use it. 

So what is a key success factor for feeding the world’s hungry? Keeping the farmers’ best interests in mind. 

Kyle Folk leads AgTech strategy at Calian Group Ltd. He is founder and President of IntraGrain Technologies Inc., acquired by Calian in 2018. 


Monday, March 11, 2019
By Dr. François Lemay

 

Nuclear waste can be highly toxic and last generations. This is not disputed. 

But nuclear waste management has come a long way since the mid-20th Century, and today is serviced with effective, evidence-based solutions. The challenge is not so much one of science and technology. Rather, it is public engagement, consultations, and genuine dialogue between the public and the experts.

The public is justified in its concern for nuclear waste. No question. These concerns about nuclear waste are why the industry is subject to such stringent regulations. It’s why management and workers take their compliance requirements so seriously.

The nuclear industry follows a hierarchy of short-term, long-term and permanent storage approaches. These approaches are based on waste’s varying rates of radioactive decay – some taking 100 years to decay while others last thousands of years.  

This hierarchy of storage is based on the best science available. It is not infallible but it is a vast improvement over practices that took place in previous decades. Waste produced during and immediately after the Second World War – what we today call legacy waste – was sometimes disposed with less rigour since regulatory oversight was not fully developed. For example, early experiments in nuclear energy at the Chalk River Laboratories west of Ottawa, in the 1940s and ’50s, led to some contaminated soil. 

The contrast between how nuclear waste was handled, then and now, is like night and day. Today, regulations are stringent and practices cautious. Yet, within public perception, the haphazard approaches of the past are easily conflated with the rigorous, effective practices of the present. 

Early in our century, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Canada (NWMO) was established to look at managing Canada’s used nuclear fuel. The NWMO held a series of public consultations and came back with two recommendations:

1) Waste should be retrievable – The organization concluded that technology could conceivably turn today’s nuclear waste into tomorrow’s resource, or that new methods might be found for safely using it or destroying it. 

2) Deep geologic disposal is viable – Uranium is mined from geological areas in which the material has sat undisturbed for millions of years. The NWMO concluded that if the waste can be returned to similarly stable geological areas, it can be stored safely until it decays. 

The challenge now lies in identifying hosting communities in geologically suitable locations, allowing for long-term disposal that is socially acceptable, technically sound and environmentally responsible. The entire process will be subject to strict regulatory oversight to ensure that it is done correctly. 

Through meaningful dialogue and extensive public consultation and communication, acceptable and safe locations can be found. It is vital that we listen to public concerns and share the evidence we have for safe storage solutions. This dialogue should involve communities where waste could be stored as well as any downstream communities that have concerns. 

Two-way discussions are essential to informing the community about how waste is managed and risks minimized. Community members need to share their concerns and have their questions answered. Such a dialogue is essential to gaining necessary community support and establishing awareness about storage plans. 

 

Dr. Francois Lemay is a nuclear safety expert and Chief Nuclear Engineer at Calian Nuclear, formerly International Safety Research Inc. He has 34 years of experience in radiation protection, risk assessment, environmental impact assessment, safety analysis, emergency response plans, procedures and systems, emergency response standards and guidelines, audits and evaluations, emergency response exercises, courses and training, and radiation transport. He has conducted training in over 20 countries for the IAEA and continues to provide expertise in radioprotection to nuclear power providers in Canada. 


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